LOS ANGELES -- If this series existed in a vacuum, with no news conferences and no headline-making legal documents, we could listen to Boston coach Doc Rivers' summary of the Lakers' victory in Game 3 Tuesday and just move on.
"I thought they were the more aggressive team all night," Rivers said. "To me that was the reason."
Because this game came after a full day of focusing on Boston's 38-10 advantage in free-throw attempts in Game 2, and on the same day the unkillable Tim Donaghy scandal delivered another blast that included an allegation of playoff games fixed by officials, it's not as simple as Lakers 87, Celtics 81.
Not even Rivers could resist throwing another log into the ugly story line burning on the side of this series. When Phil Jackson's name was included in a question, Rivers sarcastically said, "I'm just surprised he didn't whine about fouls tonight."
No, Jackson didn't have a word to say about the officials after this one. No reason to, after the Lakers shot 22 free throws to Boston's seven in the first half, and 34 to 24 overall. Maybe it's because after all the yearning for trips to the free-throw line, the Lakers didn't do much once they got there, missing 13 of their 34 attempts (62 percent).
Still, Bryant couldn't resist one last reference to Game 2 while discussing his own dismal 11-for-18 night at the line.
"At least I got there," he said.
He got there because he spent the bulk of his time in the paint this game instead of settling for the jump shot. As always, the Celtics committed multiple defenders to him. Only this time he was able to find his way to the gaps in the defense, taking half of his 20 shots from inside the paint, in addition to drawing all those fouls.
"I just went," Bryant said. "Took it to them. I just went and just had the confidence that once I get in there I'll be able to make the right play and hopefully some of the whistles will go our way a little bit tonight, get to the free-throw line. If they collapse, I hit my shooters.
"They did a great job in Boston of just zoning and not having to help too much. That's something I wanted, to put their defense in jeopardy a little bit more than we did in Boston."
The Lakers still have their issues, most notably the lack of production from their starting frontline. Not even a return to Staples Center could bring out the best in Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, who combined for 13 points.
They should be concerned that even in Los Angeles the Celtics determined the style of play, and it still feels like it's the Celtics' series. They were within two points in the final two minutes despite all the Laker free throws, and despite a combined 8-for-35 shooting by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Pierce's postgame analysis sounded a lot like Rivers, to the point that you wonder if Rivers told his guys not to mention the officials.
"It's the way [the Lakers] played," Pierce said. "They were very aggressive, especially Kobe early."
It finally got to Odom in the late stages. He seemed to be napping throughout most of the night. At one point, as he stared into space during a timeout, fellow New Yorker Spike Lee clapped his hands, got his attention and urged him to get it together.
Odom made two strong drives in the final 5½ minutes. Even though Odom didn't get the basket either that time, Gasol followed up both misses and the Lakers protected their slim lead long enough for Bryant to bring them home with the final two Laker baskets of the game.